MANILA - Islamist State-linked militants holed up in Marawi City have refused to honor peace corridors that could have allowed civilians to move away from the battle, the military said Tuesday.
Speaking to radio DZMM, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the militants shoot at law enforcers and even civilians who venture near the group's defensive positions.
"Hindi po nila inirerespeto iyan. Kadalasan, pinapaputukan po nila ngayon maski sibilyan para hindi po makapasok sa looban ng kanilang depensa," he said.
About 400 local militants reinforced by about 40 foreign fighters stormed Marawi on May 23, using sophisticated battlefield tactics to seize large swathes of the lakeside city.
Most of Marawi's 200,000 residents have since fled, but hundreds have failed to escape their homes, prompting the government to set up peace corridors for rescuing civilians and delivering humanitarian aid.
Extremists however continue using some non-combatants as human shields, delaying military offensives to end the rebel takeover of Marawi.
"Mayroon pa pong lumalabas na compounding issues sa araw-araw at ang pinakagrabe po diyan ay ang paggamit ng mga inosenteng tao bilang human shield at ang mga patuloy pa nilang hinihawakang mga bihag," Padilla said.
(Compounding issues are still arising everyday and the worst one is the use of innocent individuals as human shields and hostages.)
The official also confirmed that the US, Manila's longtime security ally, has been providing "technical assistance" to Philippine troops but there are "no US boots on the ground."
"There are no boots on the ground neither is there any personnel na galing po sa kanilang hanay na sumasali po sa labanan," he said.
"Ang kanila pong ibinibigay na tulong ay purely technical assistance at importante po iyan dahil wala po tayong ganyang kakayanan sa kasalukuyan."
As of Saturday the number of security forces killed in the battle for Marawi stood at 58. The death toll for civilians was 20 and more than 100 had been killed overall.
Several private firms and individuals, Padilla said, have pledged livelihood packages and scholarship to the families of slain troops.
"Napakaganda po ng naging outpouring of support at kami po ay natutuwa sa ganitong pagpapa-abot ng tulong ng ating mga mamamayan kaya kami po ay nagpapasalamat. Sana po ay hindi kayo magsawa dahil ang sundalo po ay hindi nagsasawang gawing ang kanilang tungkulin para sa inyo," said Padilla.
(The outpouring of support has been wonderful and we are glad and thankful of the help from our citizens. May you never tire in helping us because soldiers do not tire from their duty to serve the country.) -- With Reuters